Sunday, 03 April 2016 10:55

The fine art of decoding food labels

Food labels - how to read them Food labels - how to read them

Be it for better health or better fitness, in order to be able to make conscious choices about their diets, consumers need to be able to read food labels — especially since an increasing number of foods bear nutrition and health claims.

Products put on the market must be safe and adequately labelled to protect consumers and facilitate choice. The mandatory food labelling information is based on 2007 EU rules, applied since 2007. Food bearing claims that could mislead consumers are prohibited on the EU market.

Mary Economou is a Limassol-based clinical dietitian. She says the public needs to be more aware of what is on the label.

“‘Light’ does not mean ‘calorie-free’ but that the original content in one of its ingredients (e.g. fat or sugar) has been reduced by 30%. Also, consuming products which contain 0% fat or 0% sugar may not necessarily be better for you. I encourage people to ask more questions and give more importance to healthy eating.”

As of January 2006, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires food manufacturers to list trans-fat (i.e. trans fatty acids) in addition to saturated fats and cholesterol on nutrition fact panels. Consumption of saturated fats (trans fat) and dietary cholesterol increase the risk of coronary heart disease.

Trans fats are often found in processed foods made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils such as vegetable shortenings, some margarines, crackers, candies, cookies, snack foods, fried foods, and baked goods. It can also be naturally present in food products derived from ruminant animals such as dairy products or meat (ruminant TFA).

Nutrition claims 
Nutrition claims exist in two forms: nutrient content claims and health claims. These claims, when used, must follow specific rules to make sure they are consistent and not misleading. A nutrient content claim describes the amount of a nutrient, such as calories, fats and fibre in a food product or states ‘a source of fibre’ or ‘trans-fat free’ for example. A health claim describes the potential health effects of a food product if consumed within a healthy diet.

Juicy details 
Some of the most commonly bought items such as fruit juices also happen to be the most confusing ones to understand.

Beverages that declare they contain juice (fruit or vegetable juice) must state the percentage. This includes carbonated beverages, full-strength (100%) juices, concentrated and diluted juices and beverages that may be perceived to contain juice, but do not. Only beverages that are 100% juice may be called ‘juice’. Those diluted, must have the word ‘juice’ qualified with a term such as ‘beverage,’ ‘drink,’ or ‘cocktail.’ Juices made from concentrate must also state this.

A punch may be an artificially flavoured beverage, with or without natural flavourings, or it may be made from tea and other ingredients, exclusive of fruit juice. Products containing artificial or natural flavours must also be labelled.

When an approved chemical preservative is added to a food, the ingredient list must include both the common or usual name of the preservative and the function of the preservative by including terms, such as ‘preservative,’ ‘to help protect flavour,’ or ‘to promote colour retention.’

Low sodium 
Only foods that have been specially processed, altered, formulated, or reformulated so as to lower remove or not include a nutrient may bear such a claim (e.g. ‘low sodium potato chips’). Low sodium foods contain less than 140 milligrams of sodium per serving. ‘Light in Sodium’ food is reduced by at least 50% per serving.
Light, low fat, or low calorie

The terms ‘Light’ or ‘Lite’ are used if 50% or more of the calories are from fat which is reduced by at least 50% per serving. If less than 50% of calories are from fat, fat must be reduced by at least 50% or calories reduced at least by 1/3 per serving. Foods labelled ‘low fat’ must contain less than 3 grams of fat per serving – a food’s serving size is considered the amount as listed on the food label, not portion size. To be labelled ‘low calorie,’ a food must contain 40 calories or less per serving. Meals and main dishes that are low calorie contain less than 120 calories per 100-gram serving.

Expiration date vs. best before date
An expiration date is mandatory on certain food products, including formulated liquid diets, meal replacements, nutritional supplements and human milk supplements (infant formula). These food products should not be eaten if the expiration date has passed. The best before dates tells the anticipated amount of time an unopened food product, when stored properly, will keep its freshness, taste, nutritional value or any other qualities claimed by the company. The best before date does not guarantee product safety. It must appear on packaged food products that will remain fresh for 90 days or less, such as milk, yogurt or bread.

Article as published in The Cyprus Weekly of March 25, 2016 

Mary Anglberger

I’ve been travelling the world for over 20 years teaching English and am now taking time to follow my passion for photography and writing. I want to share all the things, events and people that have inspired and inspire me and spread those positive vibes all around.

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